Can Carpooling help with Economic Development?

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From “Cluster Analysis for NewVA Region (2004)”

The concept of industry clusters and cluster based strategy has been a vibrant topic in economic development circles over the past couple of decades.  Specific cluster related studies or profiles that cover the combined New River and Roanoke Valleys, Alleghany Highlands and Region 2000 (Lynchburg) have been completed in the past decade and have been useful in regional economic development initiatives.

The famous Harvard Business School professor Michael E. Porter defines clusters in “On Competition” as:

[A] geographically proximate group of interconnected companies and associated institutions in a particular field, linked by commonalities and complementarities.”

He goes on to say that:

Many of the competitive advantages of clusters depend on the free flow of information, the discovery of value-adding exchanges or transactions, the willingness to align agendas and to work across organizations …networks, and a sense of common interest undergird these circumstances. The social structure of clusters thus takes on central importance.

It is precisely in helping to improve the free flow of information, and to solidify professional relationships that carpooling, vanpooling and transit use can make a surprising, and often overlooked contribution to regional economic development.  In a recent blog it was argued that carpooling and vanpooling help facilitate the person-to-person conversations that generate ideas and facilitate teamwork in organizations.  This same effect can be multiplied when carpool, vanpool or transit commuters are from the same industry clusters, but not necessarily the same companies.  The potential for serendipitous discovery of innovative ideas via face-to-face conversations shouldn’t be underestimated.  Carpooling, vanpooling and transit may provide the only opportunities for in person conversations with certain other professionals in the same cluster that otherwise wouldn’t cross your path during your busy workday.  This networking effect was even observed at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. CNN did a story on the Davos shuttles being the ultimate networking tool at the Forum in some cases even more so than the sessions and events themselves.  If even the world’s business, economic and political elite find value by having face-to-face conversations while sharing a ride, just imagine the hidden potential for regional economic development in our part of Virginia.